Indianapolis: The World’s First Speedway

1909 poster advertising the speedway. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)
1909 poster advertising the speedway. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

On this date in 1909, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway played host to its first auto race.

Here are some things you may not have known about the Brickyard.

The track is located inside Indianapolis, but not in Indianapolis. It’s located in a suburb called Speedway, Indiana, that is completely surrounded by the city of Indianapolis.

The track is a 2 1/2 mile rectangle. The front and back straightaways are five-eighths of a mile long. The shorter straightaways, called “short chutes” are one-eighth of a mile long. Each of the corners is a quarter-mile long.

It’s the largest sports venue in the world in terms of seating capacity. It has 235,000 permanent seats and can hold a total of about 400,000 including infield and temporary seating.

The speedway got its nickname after being renovated following a disastrous first weekend of racing.

The original racing surface was packed soil, covered with gravel, limestone, and crushed stone covered with tar and oil. On the first day, about 17,000 spectators arrived to watch a 250-mile race. A driver named Wilfred Bourque flipped his car, killing him and his riding mechanic.On this third day, a car flew into the crowd, killing two spectators and the car’s riding mechanic. After that a driver hit a pothole and crashed into a bridge support. The race was halted and the sanctioning body banned the speedway from holding more events unless improvements were made.

The speedway owners decided to pave the entire speedway with bricks. The entire project required 3.2 million 10-pound bricks.

A total of 66 races were held the following summer. The track also hosted the National Aviation Meet, which featured Wilbur and Orville Wright.

One year later in 1911, the track owners decided to focus on one race per year. The first Indianapolis 500 was held over Memorial Day weekend. Ray Harroun won the race, averaging 74.6 miles per hour. Harroun was the only driver to save weight by forgoing a riding mechanic. Because one of the mechanic’s jobs was to watch behind the car, Harroun installed what was the first rear-view mirror on an automobile.

In 1916, fearing that the next racing season would be canceled by World War I, the track hosted a weekend of races in September called the Harvest Classic.

The owners’ fears were realized, as racing was canceled for the next two seasons. During the war, the track was used as a military aviation repair and refueling depot.

The Harvest Classic races proved to be the track’s last non-Indianapolis 500 races until 1994.

In 1931, the 500-mile race had its first diesel entrant, which completed the entire race without a pit stop.

Higher speed cars meant the track was getting more dangerous. Between 1931 and 1935, there were 15 fatalities. To help, some portions of the track were repaved using asphalt.

The track fell into disrepair when it was closed for three seasons during World War II. A new owner purchased the track for $750,000 and renovated it fast enough to host the Indy 500 in 1946.

Between 1950 and 1960, the Indianapolis 500 was part of the Formula One World Championship. Despite this, only one F1 driver, Ferrari’s Alberto Ascari in 1952, drove in the 500. Five-time champion Juan Fangio practiced for the 1958 race, but decided not to participate.

In 1961, the entire track, except for a three-foot strip of bricks at the start-finish line, was paved with asphalt.

In 1994, the track hosted its first non-Indy 500 event since 1916, when NASCAR’s Winston Cup stock car series began racing at the speedway. In 2000, Formula One returned to the speedway on a hybrid infield road course. F1 pulled out of the United States in 2007 and the speedway began hosting Grand Prix motorcycle racing the next year. In 2014, the IndyCar series itself added a second Indianapolis race to its schedule with a road-course race on the first weekend of May.

Our question: What other professional sport has held events at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway?


Today is World Humanitarian Day, National Aviation Day in the United States, and Afghan Independence Day.

It’s unofficially National Potato Day, World Photo Day, and National Hot and Spicy Food Day.

It’s the birthday of aviation pioneer Orville Wright, who was born in 1871; fashion designer Coco Chanel, who was born in 1883; and former U.S. President Bill Clinton, who is 70 today.

Because our topic happened before 1960, we’ll spin the wheel to pick a year at random.

This week in 1960, the top song in the U.S. was “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Polkadot Bikini” by Brian Hyland.

The No. 1 movie was “Ocean’s 11,” while the novel “Advise and Consent” by Allen Drury topped the New York Times Bestsellers list.



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